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ClassicsOnline Home » MATSUMURA, T.: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2 / To the Night of Gethsemane (Ireland RTE National Symphony, Takuo Yuasa)
A contemporary of Toru Takemitsu, Teizo Matsumura combined European influences with Asian musical traditions. His tautly-constructed Symphony No. 1, a work of genuine power and intense sonic splendour, evokes the image of innumerable locusts swarming over the earth. Symphony No. 2, written over 30 years later and inspired by a poster of a pair of sumo-wrestler-like statues standing at the entrance to a famous Buddhist temple in Nara, Japan, is a soulful monologue of alternating sorrow and hope. The richly expressive symphonic poem To the Night of Gethsemane, inspired by Giotto’s fresco The Kiss of Judas, was Matsumura’s last orchestral work.
By Ronald E. Grames
Teizo Matsumura (1929–2007)
Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2 • To the Night of Gethsemane
Teizo Matsumura reached the zenith of his creativity in Japan after World War II. He started his professional career as a composer later than such contemporaries as Toru Takemitsu, Toshiro Mayuzumi, Joji Yuasa, Akio Yashiro and Michio Mamiya, as he was forced to spend a long five-and-a-half years from the age of 21 convalescing from tuberculosis. This period, nevertheless, may have fostered the foundation of his unique thinking about musical creation. Lying in bed with nothing to do but ponder the very essence of things, he reached a state of mind akin to that achieved in Zen meditation. In hospital he composed Haiku poetry which, in its condensed form of five-seven-five syllables, attempts to express maximum meaning, including the concept of infinity. This exerted a profound influence on Matsumura’s thought and compositional processes as he strove for “primitive energy directly rooted in the very origins of life” and “music conceived of with an Asian mindset”. Melodies and melodic patterns are repeated persistently, interwoven heterophonically, and finally multiplied and accumulated.
Matsumura was born in Kyoto on 15 January 1929, the third of five children, to a family of kimono merchants. He grew up in the ancient city, with its numerous historic temples and steeped in Japanese tradition and religious feeling. When Matsumura was only ten years old, however, his father succumbed to cancer. It was in elementary school that Matsumura first expressed interest in Western music, listening to broadcasts and trying his hand at composing music. At his junior high school he first heard a recording of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, conducted by Arturo Toscanini, and was so swept away that he was completely unaware later of how he had arrived back home that day. This incident turned out to be his crucial encounter with music. Entering the Third High School in 1945, at the age of sixteen, he formed a music club and devoted himself to music more ardently than ever before. His mother died of tuberculosis in 1949, and in August of that year he travelled to Tokyo, turning to the composer Yasuji Kiyose for help in preparation for the entrance examination for admission to Tokyo University of the Arts.
In Tokyo, living and working in a kindergarten (happily, he was free to use their piano), Matsumura often visited Yasuji Kiyose’s home, where he became acquainted with Toru Takemitsu, one of Kiyose’s pupils. Kiyose also introduced Matsumura to Tomojiro Ikenouchi, the first Japanese composer to study at the Paris Conservatoire and to bring French compositional techniques to Japan. Taking Ravel’s music as a model, Ikenouchi trained many distinguished pupils, including Sadao Bekku, Akio Yashiro, Toshiro Mayuzumi, Michio Mamiya, Minoru Miki and Akira Miyoshi. The significance of his meeting with Ikenouchi can be seen in the portrait of Ikenouchi that stood on Matsumura’s work-desk all his life.
Matsumura passed the entrance exam for Tokyo University of the Arts and came top in the acceptance list. He was ultimately rejected, however, after a medical examination, which diagnosed tuberculosis. Utterly devastated, he wandered about for several days with sleeping pills at the ready in his hand. One day, however, a friend played him a recording of Ravel’s String Quartet, the beauty of which persuaded him to give up any idea of suicide.
During his long days in hospital, Matsumura wrote Introduction and Allegro Concertante, which anticipates the brilliance and feeling found in his later works, while alluding to influences from Ravel and Stravinsky. When this piece passed the preliminary stage of the judging in the Japan Music Competition, Matsumura checked out of hospital and once again started living in the kindergarten. The work ultimately was awarded first prize in the competition and was given its première by the NHK Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Kazuo Yamada. This marked his début as a professional composer. Akira Ifukube, who sat on the jury, highly praised Matsumura for his “attitude of speaking sincerely in his own language”, and with that, Matsumura determined to study with Ifukube. A pupil of the Russian composer Alexander Tcherepnin, Ifukube encouraged Matsumura to write music imbued with primitive energy, and Tcherepnin’s idea that “Western civilization is now stuck in history and Asian civilization will move to the forefront” further enhanced Matsumura’s inclination to create non-European music.
In 1957 Matsumura wrote a significant work titled Achime for soprano, percussion and 11 players, to be performed at a concert put on by Ikenouchi and his pupils. (“Achime” is one type of traditional kagura music, played in celebration of Shinto gods at shrines in Japan.) Matsumura asserted that this work virtually amounted to his Opus 1, conceived, as it was, with Asian sensibility. In this work he attempts to write “music full of vigour and vitality, underpinned by intense rhythms originating from ancient Japan”, eliminating the static and quiet elements commonly seen in so many works based on Japanese traditional music, and also rejecting dodecaphonic composition and post-Webernian methods predominant in Europe at that time. Thus, Matsumura’s music, in an attempt to explore roots, returns to the past, capturing not only elements of primitive Japan but also reaching across to Asia and India.
In 1959 Matsumura began to write music for films and the theatre. He ultimately produced a hundred works for the cinema and fifty for the stage. His film music is marked by three significant features: monistic themes derived from a single root, lyrical melodies elaborated with chamber instrumentation, and experimental timbres (generated by music tapes, synthesizers and the technique of musique concrète) rarely heard in his concert pieces. These elements also were to be reflected in his later works. Becoming deeply involved in drama combined with music, he was naturally inclined to write an opera, an effort that would bear fruit later in his life.
Achime (1957), Music for String Quartet and Piano (1962), Symphony No. 1 (1965) and Prelude for Orchestra (1967) were conceived with an Asian mindset. Matsumura’s attempts to write symphonies were accompanied by considerable difficulty, however, as he had to confront the task of writing for a European orchestra using one of the most orthodox forms in Western music, all the while maintaining an Asian consciousness. On the way he produced a trial piece with limited instrumentation, Music for String Quartet and Piano, in which several melodies derived from a single motif vary and conflict in the course of the work, finally forming a harmonious stream, without giving rise to confrontation or contrast.
Symphony No.1, which can be regarded as a prototypical Japanese symphony aiming at a post-European conception, is also based on purely monistic principles—every element is derived from a single root and built into a unified overriding structure—, although it presents an overwhelming soundscape, where the notes surge like a flood, multiplying and amplifying infinitely. This musical style differs from the Western dialectic method, with two or more contrasting themes. The Symphony was commissioned by the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra and first performed by the orchestra under the direction of Akeo Watanabe on 15 June 1965. It was published by the Ongaku-no-Tomo sha Corporation in 1967.
In 1971 Matsumura’s long-held dream came true. He made a journey to India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, visiting many historic Buddhist sites. This experience was to be reflected in his later works: Courtyard of Apsaras for flute, violin and piano (1971), Piano Concerto No. 1 (1973), Hymn to Aurora for mixed chorus and chamber ensemble (1978) and Piano Concerto No. 2 (1978). In these works a persistent ostinato with astonishing sustainability creates a structure of dazzlingly magnificent sound, finally focusing on a single core. Piano Concerto No. 2 is one of Matsumura’s most popular works. It has been performed in many countries including the United States, England, France and Russia. The conductor Valery Gergiev has performed this concerto, as well as Prelude for Orchestra, since 1986. Tikhon Khrennikov, then Secretary of the Union of Soviet Composers, also praised this work as “one of the most important piano concertos of the twentieth century.”
In 1980 the Suntory Music Foundation commissioned an opera from Matsumura. Based on a novel of the same title by Shusaku Endo, Silence treats the subject of God and man in seventeenth-century feudal Japan, when Christianity was forbidden. It took him thirteen years to complete the work and two years to finish the revisions. Given its première in 1993, the opera reveals the essence of Matsumura’s creativity. A psychological drama replete with mental anguish is presented to great effect, with subtle wide-ranging dynamics and diversity of sounds ranging from chamber music-like delicacy to chaotic intensity. A simple melody of prayer floats in the background, arising from the elaborate score, with merely a hint of God’s presence. A constant tension is maintained in the score.
After completing Silence, Matsumura produced such penetrating works as String Quartet (1996), the song cycle The Poor faithful (1996), Symphony No. 2 (1998) and the suite of piano pieces titled Pilgrimage (1999–2000). His final work, Portrait for cello and piano, was written in 2006 in memory of Keizo Saji, former chairman of the Suntory Music Foundation. Matsumura’s creative energy never declined over the years, but on 6 August 2007, as he was planning further works, he died in Tokyo of pneumonia. His music, which explores the very origins of its subjects, continues to exert strong influence on young Japanese composers.
After writing Achime, Matsumura felt that he could no longer depend on polyphonic and homophonic techniques in Western music to provide his basic means of expression. His new aim was to write music “conceived of with an Asian mindset” and “full of primitive energy directly rooted in the very origins of life”. The classic work for which he felt the strongest affinity was Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps, but its optimistically diatonic melodies and clear rhythms linked to dance were no longer the sound he was seeking. Groping his way forward, he gradually became obsessed with a vague image of an enormous accumulation of chaotic sounds, until one day he was inspired by a photograph of a group of many stone images of the Buddha. These took on the appearance of a huge swarm of locusts, wildly sweeping over the earth. Overwhelmed by the image, he determined to write an orchestral work full of such energy, setting to work on his Symphony No. 1.
To the Night of Gethsemane is Matsumura’s final orchestral work. It was commissioned by the Orchestral Ensemble Kanazawa (Matsumura was the composer in residence of this chamber orchestra) and given its première on 8 September 2002, under the direction of Hiroyuki Iwaki. The work was revised in 2003 and then once again in May 2005. The original instrumentation consisted of strings with dual winds, and two percussionists, but without trombones, piano or harp. Two trombones were added for the work’s final revision, which was first performed on 20 June 2005, by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Kazuhiko Komatsu. In this work Matsumura’s style is more flexible and expansive than before. To the Night of Gethsemane was inspired by Giotto’s fresco The Kiss of Judas (1305), which depicts Judas betraying Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Matsumura masterfully renders Jesus’s penetrating eyes and Judas’s look of dismay in this symphonic poem. The solo violin, with its beautiful plaintive prayer in the coda, is impressive.
In 1998 Matsumura wrote Symphony No. 2 for piano and orchestra (1998/1999/2006) at the request of the Suntory Music Foundation. It was first performed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Tadaaki Odaka, with Minoru Nojima as the solo pianist. The symphony’s third movement was revised the following year, with the entire work undergoing final revision in 2006 for this recording. It was the last time that Matsumura worked on its orchestration, and this recording represents the first ever performance of the final version.
Matsumura’s inspiration for writing this symphony came from the sight of a poster of the Kongorikishi at Kofukuji (a famous temple in Nara). Kongorikishi, also known as Nio, are a pair of sumo-wrestler-like statues standing at the entrance of Buddhist temples. With angry countenances and imposing musculature, the statues act as guardians of the Buddha. One of the pair, with mouth agape, is called A-gyo and the other with mouth closed is known as Un-gyo. “A” denotes the first note when someone opens his mouth and “Un” denotes the last note when one closes his mouth. The two figures thus can represent the beginning and the end of the universe. Witnessing their fierce appearance, with darkness deep behind the whites of their penetrating eyes, Matsumura felt as if he had heard their sorrowful voices.
Symphony No. 2 is more flexible in style than his earlier works, open to various influences from elements of Western classical music, including tonality. Symphony No. 1 and Prelude for Orchestra, on the other hand, insist on an Asian sensibility. Matsumura believed that transcendent music, as represented by Bach and Mozart, is inherently imbued with a certain “flexibility”. Symphony No. 2 is Matsumura’s spiritual monologue, full of both sorrow and hope, marking the close of the twentieth century.
Edited and translated by Akihiko Ushio and Jeffrey L. Hart. Adapted by Naxos
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